Fixing Applied Sport Psychology in 2023

Dave Kearney
3 min readNov 16, 2022


Over the last 3 years, I’ve spoken with hundreds of sport psychologists and coaches around the world. Here’s the state of the industry going into 2023.

Applied sport psychology is in a bad place. Graduates are spending the better part of a decade working towards a protected qualification, only to lose out to self-styled mental skills coaches touting greater years of practical experience.

Meanwhile, the industry has been incredibly slow to adapt to new ways of working. Covid finally forced many practitioners to switch from face to face meetings to zoom calls, only to realise that in many cases, online has always been a more practical and efficient way of delivering many sport psychology services. Still, the impetus to change and adopt new technology remains slow.

Coaches at all levels are crying out for cost effective, scalable mental training solutions. Meanwhile, the sport psychology industry remains focused on maximising billable hours. Understanding whether an athlete is adhering to an intervention or not is often touted as a complete black box, despite being a trivial problem to solve with the right tools.

Common interventions that are taught in the early stages of accreditation are what coaches value, but they are often sidelined by sport psychologists seeking to implement deeper solutions that don’t meet the expressed needs of the teams that they are hired to work with. This leads to a negative view of the work performed by the sport psychologist and further sets the industry (and future employment opportunities) back.

Furthermore, highly qualified sport psychologists sometimes take the damaging worldview that due to their qualifications, expertise from outside the sport psychology domain is beneath them. This hands-away attitude can be attributed to medical organisations and academia where doctoral qualifications rule the roost, but results in many sport psychologists struggling to integrate with teams where the ultimate authority for budgeting and decision making lies with coaches and not the psychologists.

For those still studying, academia does not do enough to prepare applied sport psychologists for life after they graduate. In a quick survey of courses in the UK and Australia, not one provided a single module on how to set up and market yourself as a private practitioner: something many applied sport psychologists will need to do. Facebook is not where a graduate sport psychologist should be going to to learn how to acquire their first client:

In the broader picture, the supposed growth in the sport psychology industry is overly optimistic too. There are legitimate questions as to whether sport psychology can be called a profession at all, with very few employment opportunities and the total volume of Google searches worldwide trending down rather than up over the last 10 years:

Finally, conference agendas still focus exclusively on the latest research and topics-du-jour, and invest no time on how to grow the industry as a whole — something which, as is clear from the above, is massively needed. There are over 2 billion athletes on the planet: there needs to be a coherent global vision to expand sport psychology and deliver much needed services to them.

To summarise: Sport psychology may talk about achieving potential, but it sorely needs to reflect on its own. What can be done to make things better?



Dave Kearney

Making mental skills training based on sport psychology best practice a normal thing for all athletes